EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding attempted to shock the intelligence community by asserting that the Union should create its own intelligence service by 2020 in order for Europe to “level the playing field with our US partners”. Is she for real?
While the EU already has its own smallish intelligence body in INTCEN, it has neither spooks on the ground (even if it posts staff to non-EU countries on research trips, it is always with the agreement of the host state) nor the means to intercept and snoop calls or emails. Its mission is to provide intelligence analysis, early warning and situational awareness by monitoring and assessing international events.
INTCEN carries out its work by using satellite imagery from the EU Satellite Centre, reports from EU embassies in risky places (Regional Security Officers), publicly accessible sources of information (General and External Relations Division) or whatever information the security services and intelligence agencies of the Member States considers liable to be shared (Analysis Division). That’s all.
Will we then eventually see the revolutionary European Intelligence Agency Reding envisions? Well, just don’t buy the spy trench coats yet: not even entering into the complications posed by the need to revise the Treaties, free-riding, confidentiality and Parliamentary accountability, the clash of interests between the EU and NATO is probably too deep to be easily overcome. As highlighted by the competitive race of sorts they apparently engaged in during their dual Eastern enlargement processes, the ability and willingness to effectively cooperate shown by these two supranational bodies is doubtful at best.
Even if scholars and analysts suggest a clear-cut division of tasks, with soft power going to the EU and hard power staying with NATO, reality tells us otherwise. 24 of the 28 EU Member States are also NATO members, and 22 of the 28 NATO members are also EU Member States: plenty of shared interests and synergies, but not a perfect match, especially considering that Turkey is a key NATO member and Cyprus is an EU country. In other words, unless the situation of Northern Cyprus is resolved (with negotiations scheduled to be resumed soon), Cyprus will keep putting hurdles to Turkey’s EU membership aspirations and Turkey will keep on blocking attempts at intensifying EU-NATO ties.
Back in 2012, I already argued that incremental intelligence sharing should become a top NATO priority, ideally by progressively developing joint capabilities which would eventually lead to the creation of a joint transatlantic secret services command. One year later, Snowden’s leaks have shown a much cruder reality: no alliance seems strong enough to prevent massive mutual spying at all levels. National interest still trumps shared interests in an anarchic world order, and he EU might not be able to escape this logic either, as the watered-down CSDP emerging from the Lisbon Treaty also attests.